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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 49

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

The Lord asked why Malcam (lit. their king; also called Milcom or Molech, cf. Jeremiah 19:5; Deuteronomy 12:31), the god of the Ammonites, had (from the Ammonites’ viewpoint) taken over territory that formerly belonged to the tribe of Gad. Was it that there were no descendants of the Gadites to maintain control of it? No, they had not gained it by default but by stealing it from the Israelites. The Assyrians under Tiglath-Pilesar III had removed the Israelites from Transjordan in 734 B.C., and the Ammonites had moved into their territory then. It was the king of Ammon, not its do-nothing god, who had taken possession of Gad’s territory.

Verses 1-6

D. The oracle against Ammon 49:1-6

The Ammonites lived north of the Moabites, north of the Arnon River for most of their history, and east of the tribal territories of Gad and Reuben. However, the Ammonites had taken over some Israelite territory in Transjordan, and their borders to the north and south also changed from time to time. Ammon extended north to the Jabbok River and east to the Arabian Desert. The Ammonites, like the Moabites, descended from Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and Israel’s relations with both nations were normally unfriendly. [Note: See Thompson, p. 715, for more history of the Ammonites. He also wrote good summary histories of the other people-groups mentioned in this chapter.]

Verse 2

Because Ammon had taken over territory that Yahweh had given to His people, the Lord would send soldiers against the capital city, Rabbah (modern Amman, the capital of Jordan). He would destroy it and the other Ammonite towns, and enable Israel to repossess what the Lord had given her.

Verse 3

The Ammonites, in their chief cities, would mourn over the destruction of their other towns. Heshbon was normally a Moabite city, but at certain periods the Ammonites occupied it. This "Ai" must have been an Ammonite town; it could not be the Ai near Bethel in Cisjordan. The enemy would take images of Malcam into captivity, along with the idol’s priests and the princes of the nation (cf. Jeremiah 46:25; Jeremiah 48:7). If we should translate "Malcam" in this verse, the meaning becomes: the enemy would take "their king" into captivity along with his priests and princes.

Verse 4

Ammon’s sins were her pride in her natural resources (cf. Jeremiah 48:26; Jeremiah 48:29; Jeremiah 48:42) and her material treasures that she had accumulated (cf. Jeremiah 48:7; 1 Timothy 6:17), and her false security (cf. Jeremiah 48:11). Steep valleys surrounded remote Ammon on three sides. The people of Ammon, personified as a daughter, were slipping away from their secure position, as the water in their valleys flowed away.

Verse 5

Yahweh promised to terrorize the Ammonites with enemies that would attack from all directions (cf. Jeremiah 49:29; Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 20:3-4; Jeremiah 20:10; Jeremiah 46:5). No one would be able to organize the fugitives because the scattering would be so great.

Verse 6

Later, however, Yahweh would restore the fortunes of the Ammonites. This occurred briefly after the Exile. Tobiah was a Persian governor of Ammon during the postexilic period (cf. Nehemiah 2:10; Nehemiah 2:19; Nehemiah 4:7). But restoration of this region will also take place in the Millennium (cf. Jeremiah 46:26-28; Jeremiah 48:47).

Nebuchadnezzar brought the Ammonites under his authority when he advanced into Palestine in 605 B.C. After that, Ammon proved disloyal to Babylon in 594 B.C. (Jeremiah 27:3) and in 589 B.C. (Ezekiel 21:18-32). King Baalis of Ammon had some part in the assassination of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 40:13 to Jeremiah 41:15). Because of these acts of unfaithfulness, Nebuchadnezzar invaded Ammon, as well as Moab and Judah, in 581 B.C. [Note: Josephus, 10:9:7.] This weakened Ammon so much that Arab tribes were able to destroy her, along with Moab and Edom. By the middle of the sixth century B.C., Ammon had ceased to exist as an independent nation.

Some reasons for Yahweh’s judgment on Ammon were her military aggression (Jeremiah 49:1) and her proud trust in her geographical situation and her treasures (Jeremiah 49:4).

Verse 7

Teman (lit. south), a town in Edom about halfway between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqabah, was famous for the wisdom of its inhabitants (cf. Job 2:11; Obadiah 1:9). [Note: Thompson, p. 721.] Yet the Edomites had not behaved wisely. The name of this town was a poetic equivalent for the whole nation (cf. Habakkuk 3:3), and it came from one of Esau’s grandsons (Genesis 36:11).

Verses 7-22

E. The oracle against Edom 49:7-22

The Edomites lived to the southeast of Judah, south of Moab. The Zered River was their northern border, the Gulf of Aqabah (about 100 miles to the south) the southern, the Arabah the western, and the desert the eastern borders. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, and a long history of antagonism with the Israelites that reached back to the days of Jacob and Esau, and Israel’s wilderness wanderings, marked their relationship (cf. Numbers 20:14-21; Judges 11:17).

"In this prophecy Jeremiah has relied much on Obadiah, Jeremiah 49:1-9, and reproduced much of his expressions regarding the fall of Edom." [Note: Keil. 2:241. This view assumes that Obadiah wrote before Jeremiah, but the dating of Obadiah is debatable.]

Verse 8

The people would have to flee because the Lord was going to bring disaster on them. The oasis of Dedan lay in Edom’s southeast region close to the Arabian Desert.

Verses 9-10

Grape pickers and thieves normally left some things behind, but Yahweh would leave no Edomites untouched by the judgment He would bring on this nation. He would remove every covering that protected all these people (cf. Obadiah 1:5-6).

Verse 11

Yahweh, or perhaps a kindly survivor, promised to care for the widows and orphans left behind during the devastation of the nation.

Verses 12-13

The Edomites, who formerly had escaped divine judgment, would certainly experience the wrath of God. Bozrah, the capital and chief city in northern Edom, would become a horrible ruin and an embarrassment to the Edomites for their failure to save it, as would all the towns in the nation. People would say, "May you become like Bozrah," when they cursed others.

Verses 14-15

Jeremiah had heard a message that Yahweh had sent out by messenger to the nations, ordering them to prepare for battle against Edom. Yahweh would humiliate Edom among the nations and make her an object of contempt.

Verse 16

Edom had deceived herself by thinking that other nations would be too afraid of her apparently impregnable location to attack her. But the Lord promised to bring her down and to humble her arrogance (cf. Obadiah 1:1-4). "The rock" is a translation of Sela, a site near the city carved out of rock near Bozrah, later called Petra (in Greek).

Verses 17-18

Observers would be horrified at Edom’s fate, which would be destruction as complete as that of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain (Genesis 19). People would no longer live in Edom.

Verse 19

Yahweh promised to invade Edom as a lion attacks a flock of sheep, a phenomenon well known in Edom. Lions repeatedly ventured out of the dense jungle foliage in the Arabah to attack sheep grazing on the pastures of that valley. Edom’s shepherd leaders would not be able to hold out against the Lord, but would run away (cf. Jeremiah 50:44-46). Then Yahweh would appoint over the nation whomever He chose to rule it, and no one would be able to challenge or overturn His sovereign authority.

Verses 20-21

God’s purposes for Edom were to have enemies drag all the people from their country, even the children, leaving the land desolate of people. News of Edom’s destruction would spread far and have major repercussions. Even Egypt would hear of it, since the news would cross the Red Sea.

Verse 22

The enemy would come down on Edom like an eagle (or vulture, cf. Jeremiah 48:40-41). Men would be as fearful as women in labor when the invader struck.

Nebuchadnezzar fulfilled the judgment predicted in this prophecy when he subdued the entire Transjordan region. Like Moab and Ammon, Edom plotted against the Babylonians, who had incorporated them into their empire about 605 B.C. However, the Edomites assisted the Babylonians in attacking Judah in 588-586 B.C. (Psalms 137:7; Lamentations 4:21; Ezekiel 25:12-14; cf. Obad.). Babylonian reprisals against Edom for lack of cooperation, and subsequent invasions of Arab tribes (Nabateans; cf. Malachi 1:1-4), drove the Edomites into Judah where they settled, north of Hebron. This area later became known as Idumea. Herod the Great was an Idumean.

". . . the threatened devastation of the land of Edom was brought about by the Chaldeans, as is clear from Mal. i. 3; but the annihilation of the people was commenced by the Maccabeans, and completed by the Romans, about the time of the Jewish war [i.e., A.D. 68-70]." [Note: Keil, 2:250.]

Misplaced trust, plus pride in herself and in her reputedly inaccessible heights, caused Yahweh to judge this nation (Jeremiah 49:16).

Verse 23

Hamath, 110 miles north of Damascus, and Arpad, 95 miles north of Hamath, were allied city-states that would hear disheartening and shameful news. The sea may have been some local body of water or some local symbol that Jeremiah used as a figure of disquietude. [Note: Feinberg, "Jeremiah," p. 669.] The lovely Pharpar River flowed through the city (cf. 2 Kings 5:12).

Verses 23-27

F. The oracle against Damascus 49:23-27

Perhaps this oracle is shorter because Damascus had not had the history of contact with Judah, in recent years, that the other nations mentioned in these oracles did. However, the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles document incessant hostilities between the Arameans and Israel and Judah-earlier in history. Damascus was the capital of Aram, and the leader of a coalition of Aramean city-states (cf. Isaiah 7:8). It stood about 150 miles north-northeast of Jerusalem.

Verse 24

The bad news was that Damascus had panicked and fled before an enemy. She would behave like a woman in childbirth, namely, fearfully and helplessly.

Verse 25

Yahweh announced that the town that had brought joy to Him, and that others praised for its beauty and leadership, had become deserted. Damascus was considered to be one of the most beautiful cities of ancient times. [Note: Graybill, p. 690.] Even today, many visitors of Damascus comment on its unusual beauty.

Verses 26-27

When Yahweh destroyed the city, all her young soldiers would perish, and it would burn down (cf. Amos 1:4; Amos 1:14)-even the fortified towers named in honor of a number of great Aramean kings named "Ben-hadad" (lit. son of [the god] Hadad). Hadad was an Aramean storm god, the equivalent of the Canaanite Baal.

Jeremiah indicated no reason for Yahweh’s destruction of Damascus. One of the major reasons for divine judgment on all the nations and groups mentioned in these oracles, though not stated here, was their hostility to the seed of Abraham. God had promised to curse those who cursed Israel (Genesis 12:3), and every one of these oracles ensured the fulfillment of that promise. Judging Israel’s enemies was part of covenant faithfulness for the suzerain of all the earth.

"The fulfilment [sic] of this threat cannot be proved historically, from want of information. Since Pharaoh-Necho had conquered Syria as far as the Euphrates, it is very possible that, after the defeat of the Egyptians at Carchemish, in the conquest of Syria by Nebuchadnezzar, Damascus was harshly treated. The prophecy is, however, so general in its statement, that we need not confine its fulfilment to the conquest by Nebuchadnezzar." [Note: Keil, 2:254.]

Verse 28

Nebuchadnezzar also defeated Kedar, a prominent Arab tribe (Jeremiah 2:10; Genesis 25:13; Isaiah 21:16-17; Isaiah 42:11; Isaiah 60:7; Ezekiel 27:21; et al.), and the tribes around "Hazor," a place in the eastern desert (not the town in northern Galilee). The past tense in this title verse may have been added after Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion, but the oracle is a promise of future destruction. Or, this may be a Hebrew prophetic perfect, in which case the prophet spoke of the future as past because it was certain to happen. Yahweh ordered the Babylonian king to devastate these eastern Arabs (cf. Judges 6:3).

Verses 28-33

G. The oracle against the Arab tribes 49:28-33

As with the previous oracle, the length of this one reflects the relative importance to Judah of those cursed by God. These Arab tribes were some of the descendants of Ishmael, Isaac’s half-brother (Genesis 25:12-18). Again, antagonism marked their history with Israel.

Verse 29

These nomads would gather up their tents and other possessions, and would flee before the advancing Babylonian soldiers. Their cry of "terror on every side" was one of Jeremiah’s stock expressions (cf. Jeremiah 49:5; et al.).

Verse 30

Yahweh encouraged them to flee, and to hide in any recesses they could find, because Nebuchadnezzar planned to wipe them out.

Verse 31

The Lord instructed Nebuchadnezzar to go against these nomads-who lived at ease and securely in the desert, by themselves, rather than in walled cities.

"Carefree living was frowned upon in Old Testament times, since even the most heavily fortified location could be overthrown. The life of the Christian, who has been bought with a price (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Corinthians 7:23), must be spent in the service of God and man, not in selfish indulgence." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 182.]

Verse 32

Their camels and cattle would become booty for the Babylonians, who would be the Lord’s instrument in scattering and destroying the Arabs. One of their distinguishing features was that they rounded off the corners of their beards. Those who lived in the open air would scatter to the winds.

Verse 33

Hazor would become a desolate haunt of wild animals, rather than a center for these Arab tribes.

Nebuchadnezzar raided these Arab tribes in 599 B.C., the year before he began his invasion of Palestine. [Note: Wiseman, pp. 31-32, 71.]

Again, the major reason for judgment, though not stated in the oracle, must be Yahweh’s covenant faithfulness to His promise to punish those who were enemies of the Israelites (Genesis 12:3). These nations also violated the Noahic Covenant, in which God decreed, "Whoever sheds man’s blood [without divine authorization], by man his blood shall be shed" (Genesis 9:6).

Verse 34

This oracle came to Jeremiah at the beginning of King Zedekiah’s reign, about 597 B.C. By this time it had become clear that the invader from the north would be Babylon.

Verses 34-39

H. The oracle against Elam 49:34-39

Elam was the land of the Elamites who lived somewhat east of the Babylonians (in modern southwest Iran). We know little about the history of the Elamites, and their inclusion in a collection of judgments against Israel’s hostile neighbors comes as a surprise. The oracle is noteworthy for its strong statements of threat and judgment.

"In contrast to the other oracles concerning the nations in Jeremiah, human agency recedes drastically. The sovereignty of the LORD over the affairs of all nations is accented by the announcement that the LORD would place his throne in Elam and destroy its gods (king and princes)." [Note: Smothers, p. 342.]

Verse 35

Yahweh announced that He would break Elam’s military might, like someone would break a warrior’s bow. The Elamites were famous archers (Isaiah 22:6).

Verses 36-37

God would scatter the Elamites in every direction, using military attacks from many different directions to do so (cf. Ezekiel 37:9; Daniel 8:8; Zechariah 6:1-8). He would destroy them in battle.

"Judging from its geographical situation, we must probably come to the conclusion that Elam fell to the lot of the Medes." [Note: Keil, 2:258.]

Verse 38

Yahweh would establish His sovereignty over Elam and would destroy its ruling dynasty.

Verse 39

In the last days, however, the eschatological future, He would restore Elam’s fortunes (cf. Jeremiah 49:6; Jeremiah 48:47). People from this area will experience Yahweh’s blessing in the Millennium. Elam became a satrapy of the Persian Empire, and its capital, Susa, became the winter residence of the Persian kings after 539 B.C. [Note: Thompson, p. 729; Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 147..] But this promise projects beyond that time. [Note: Feinberg, "Jeremiah," p. 671.]

Why did God announce judgment on a people that were so geographically remote from Judah in this collection of oracles? There may have been more hostility in Elamite Israelite relations than history has revealed so far. However, the attack by one Elamite king on Abraham and his family (Genesis 14) may have been adequate reason for God’s punishment (Genesis 12:3). Probably there was continuing hostility. Moreover, since the Elamites were ancient allies of the Babylonians, they had to share the guilt of Babylon’s sins against God’s people (cf. Genesis 9:6).

A promise of restoration does not appear in every oracle. Nevertheless, we should probably understand that as God judged all these nations, so He will also bless the people who will be living in these territories when Christ returns to set up His kingdom on earth.

Another difference between the oracles is that some mention the reasons for judgment but others do not. Probably the reasons for God’s judgment of them all are the same, namely, failure to acknowledge His sovereignty and to live humbly by recognizing Him as the God of all the earth. He was their suzerain and they were His vassals. Other reasons were their antagonism toward His people and their brutality toward others.

"The oracles provide data that suggest that they were viewed in a treaty context. First, the oracles contain judgment statements that are similar to the curses characteristic of international treaties . . . Second, the cup-of-wrath concept may reflect the treaty and the manner in which it was imposed . . . Third, there are references to military aggression against fellow vassals that point to treaty violations (Jeremiah 48:1-2; Jeremiah 48:45; Jeremiah 49:1-2).

"The conclusion reached is that the OAN [oracles against nations] in Jeremiah 47-49 reflect the context of the international treaty, providing the prophet a metaphor for expressing his understanding of the relationship of the LORD to the nations. The oracles, whether or not they were all intended to be heard by the nations, served first of all to affirm the sovereignty of the LORD over all the world, and second, they served as a warning to Judah, to refrain from trusting in alliances with, or in dependence upon, nations that stood under divine judgment." [Note: Smothers, p. 277.]

"In recent history, the nations haven’t acted any better than the ones recorded in Jeremiah 46-49. Innocent blood is shed legally as millions of babies are aborted in their mother’s wombs. International terrorism, genocide, exploitation of people and material resources, war, crime, the abuse of children, and a host of other sins have stained the hands of nations with blood. What will they do when the Judge becomes angry and starts to avenge the innocent?" [Note: Wiersbe, p. 139. Cf. Hebrews 10:31.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 49". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/jeremiah-49.html. 2012.
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